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Autonomous Transport Could Drive Trucking Into Digital Transformation’s Fast Lane

autonomous trucks, freight, shipping, self-driving trucks

In America, we move most of our goods by road. This makes trucks and 18-wheelers a crucial, even definitive, part of any supply chain.

It also highlights the compounding impact of any efficiencies that firms can capture around their fuel, labor, and maintenance costs, or any other of the long-standing cost centers that logistics companies and trucking firms need to manage.

Increasingly, firms are finding that the ongoing digitization of the freight space, including autonomous B2B trucking, offers them several attractive benefits. That’s why, against a backdrop where consumer-facing autonomy companies are facing federal scrutiny for the safety practices and marketing claims of their self-driving vehicles, the B2B space is emerging as a potentially safer and more regimented sandbox to experiment within.

After all, B2B trucking typically involves transporting goods between fixed locations, such as distribution centers, warehouses and manufacturing facilities. These routes are often well-defined and relatively predictable, making them ideal candidates for autonomous vehicles, which excel in environments with clear parameters. Even so, the technology is still currently in the experimental stages.

And with U.S. auto safety regulators on Tuesday (May 14) opening an investigation into unexpected behavior exhibited by Alphabet subsidiary Waymo’s automated driving systems, and on Monday (May 13) probing Amazon subsidiary Zoox’s self-driving systems, some observers believe the uncertainties around consumer-facing autonomous vehicles may make the certainties around B2B autonomy more compelling.

Read more: From Factories to the Fast Lane, Unpacking Autonomy’s Potential

Autonomous Trucking’s Impact Across the B2B Supply Chain

The cost savings associated with autonomy, such as reduced labor costs and increased operational efficiency, are particularly attractive in the B2B trucking sector, where profit margins can be slim. By mitigating the need for human drivers and optimizing route planning, companies can lower transportation costs and improve their bottom line.

While the technology is still evolving, autonomous vehicles will be able to operate 24/7 without the need for breaks, which improves reliability and reduces delivery times. This reliability ensures that goods are delivered on time, reducing the risk of supply chain disruptions and improving customer satisfaction.

As PYMNTS has covered, the transport industry is the heart of commerce and the linchpin of a functional economy — and moving goods more efficiently, more effectively and at the lowest cost possible isn’t going out of style anytime soon.

At the start of this year (Jan. 26), PYMNTS sat down with Yoav Amiel, chief information officer at freight brokerage platform and third-party logistics company RXO, who explained that the transportation sector is ready — and willing — to embrace automation.

“Long-haul trucking is much more open to automation,” Amiel said. “There are more potential savings and efficiency gains there that are easier to implement. Short-haul trucking has higher implementation costs and tighter margins, so deploying AI (artificial intelligence) and embedding these engines could be more complex.”

Autonomous transport also offers scalability, allowing companies to quickly adjust to fluctuations in demand without having to hire and train additional drivers. This scalability has the potential to be particularly beneficial during peak seasons or when entering new markets, enabling companies to respond swiftly to changing customer needs.

Read more: AI is Coming for the Automotive Experience, Down to the Battery

Capturing the Connection Between Autonomy and Payments

The digitization of the freight space, including autonomous B2B trucking, offers several benefits in terms of payments and financial transactions, in large part because with autonomous B2B trucking, transactions can be seamlessly integrated into digital platforms, allowing for faster and more efficient payment processing. This reduces the time it takes for companies to receive payment for their services and improves cash flow.

Ninety-three percent of truckers would choose to receive their income and earnings via instant payments, according to findings in “Generation Instant: How Truckers Use Instant Payments to Support Their Lifestyles,” a PYMNTS Intelligence and Ingo Payments collaboration, which also revealed that truckers are 25% more than likely than the average consumer to be highly likely to pay a fee to receive instant payments.

As the study noted, instant methods help truck drivers manage their finances, which could help lessen their turnover rate. Transportation and logistics companies that provide an instant option could have a competitive advantage.

But it isn’t just the roads where autonomous transport can play a transformative role — self-driving vehicles may be taking the skies, too. At least, that is the latest news from MightyFly, a company developing autonomous cargo aircraft for expedited logistics, which announced April 30 that it had become the first large autonomous cargo eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) company to receive an FAA flight corridor approval in the U.S.

As Anna Brunelle, CFO at May Mobility, told PYMNTS in February, “I believe in our lifetime, not just automobiles, but every piece of moving machinery on the face of the earth will be automated. And the smart infrastructure that oversees it and supports it will also be automated.”